Highway Construction Zone Safety: Not Yet Achieved

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1977-12-23.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                          DOCUMENT RESUME
04758   - [E3634867]

Highway Construction Ztne Safety: Not Yet Achievcd. CED-78-10;
b-164457(3). December 23, 1977. 23 pp. + 2 appendices (9 pp.).
Report to Secretary, Department of Transportation; by Henry
Eschwege, Director, Community and Economic Development Div.
Issue Area: Transportation Systems and Policies: Motor
    Vehicle-highway Transportation System (2408); Consumer and
    worker Protection: Death and Serious Disability Caused by
    wo.kplace Safety Hazards (910).
Contact: Community and Economic Development Div.
Budget Function: Commerce and Transportation: Ground
    Transportation (404).
OrJanizaticn Concerned: Federal Highway Administration.
Congressional Relevance: House Committee on Public Works and
    Transportation; Senate Committee on Environment and Public
Authority: Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1976 (P.L. 94-280).
    Highway Safety Act of 1966 (80 Stat. 731).

           The Federal Highway Administration has expressed
concern about construction zone safety for over 11 years, but
this ccncern has not always been reflected in the safety
provisions made by State highway agencies.
FiLdings/ConcluEions: Unsafe conditions existed at all of the 26
construction sites visited in 7 States. Designs for worksite
safety varied widely from State to State and from project to
project. Although the Highwuy Administration has taken some
actions to improve driving environments, these actions do not
fully address the problems observed. By developing additional
guidance on how and when to use traffic control devices, by
improving field office inspection procedures, and by providing
training, the Highway Administration and the States can greatly
improve the safety of motorists, pedestrians, and work crews in
highway construction zones. Recommendations: The Secretary of
TransFcrtation should: direct the Administrator of the Federal
Highway Administration to revise the Manual cn Uniform Tr'ffic
Control Devices tc include specific guidance on bow and when to
use traffic control devices in construction zones; require
training to hell i sure -hat Federal and State officials are
made aware of the importance cf construction zone safety and
have the capability to plan for., implement, and inspect these
safety measures; and establish field office inspection
procedurE;s to identify hazardous conditions and insure *nat they
are corrected. (Author/SC)
                 UNI TED s TA TFS


      Id IHighway         Construction Zone
                 Safety--Not Yet Achieved

                 The Highway Administration has expressed
                 concern about construction /one safety for
                 over 11 years, but this concern was not al
                 ways reflected in the safety provisions made
                 by State highway agencies. At all of the 26
                 construction sites GAO visited, unsafe condi
                 tions existed. GAO found that designs fo'
                 worksite safety varied widely from State to
                 State and project to project. Although the
                 Highway Administration has taken somnie a
                 tions to mDrove driving ePvirorments, Lnese
                 actions do not fully address the problems
                 GAO fouild.

                 Accordingly, the Federal Highway Adminis
                 tralion needs to develop additional prnogram
                 guidance, provide atrd promote more training,
                 and strengthen the i-lsp:actioi procedures (;
                 its field offices.

                 CED 7810                                        DECEMBER 23, 1977
                                  WASHINGTON, D.C.   20548



       The Honorable
       The Secretary of Transportation

       Dear Mr.      Secretary:

             We have reviewed the efforts being made by t'  Federal
        Highway Administration to increase safety in highway con-
        struction zones. This report presents the results of that

             Our report contains several recommendations to you which,
        if implemented, will improve the safet', environment on future
        Federal-aid highway projects.  The report was discussed with
        Federal Highway Administration program officials, and their
        comments were considered in preparing the report.

            As you know, section 236 of the Legislative Reorganiza-
       tion Act of 1970 requires the head of a Federal agency to sub-
       mit a written statement on actions taken on our recommerndations
       to the House Committee on Government Operations and the Senate
       Committee on Governmental Affairs not later than 60 day. after
       the date of the report and to the House and Senate Committees
       on Appropriations with the agency's first request foT- appro-
        priations made more than 60        days after the date of the report.

            Copies of this repnrt are being sent to the House and
       Senate Committees on Appropriations; the House Committee on
       Public Works and Transportation; the Senate Committce on
       Environment and Public Works; the House Committee on Govern-
       ment Operations; the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs;
       and the Acting Director, Office of Management and Budget.

                                             Sincerely yours,

                                             Henry Eschwege


             Because highway accident rates are higher in
             construction zones, it is important that States
             take special efforts at these worksites to pro-
             tect motorists, pedestrians, and work crews.
             (See p. 1.)
             Tha Federal Highway Administration has been
             emphasizing safety in 'iighway construction
             zones since 1966. Howver, the hazards GAO
             found indicated that in 11 years this emphasis
             has not always reached responsible project
             level officials at Highway Administration
             field offices and State highway agencies.

            When designing, implementing, and inspecting
            highway worksites, these project officials
            have not been devoting enough attention to
            safety. GAO believes this occurred because
            they did not always know how to make work-
            sites safe, did not adequately appreciate
            the need for safety in construction zones,
            or placed higher priority on other matters,
            such as construction quality.
            Accordingly, the Federal Highway Administra-
            tion needs to develop additional program
            guidance, provide and promote more training,
            and strengthen the inspection procedures of
             its field offices.          (See p. 4.)

             Since the early 1970s States have been using
             increasingly larger portions of their Federal-
             aid funds for rebuilding highways.
            GAO's     review of      Construction   zone safety i?
            seven States--Louisianla, Mississippi, Missouri,
            New York, Ohio, Texas, and Washington--re-
            vealed widely varying safety deficiencies at
            the 26 sites visited.

cIaaL5II.' Upon r moval. the rport
cover date should be noted hereon.

 The following photograph shows one of the prob-
 lems found.

A series of 1-foot-deep pavement cutouts ex-
tending across the centerline were marked
by posi.ioning drums between the hazards in-
stead of next to them. At night, a motorist
may riot notice the dropoff because his atten-
tion is on the barrels.  This could be langer-
ous if he leaves the left lane and drives
between the barrels. Other safety hazards
are shown on pages 5 to 12.

Altiouoh the States or local jurisdiction,
managing Federal-aid highway reconstruction
are responsible, for assuring safety, the Fed-
eral Government has an overview responsibility.

The Highway Administration has recognized prob-
lems in achieving safe construction zones.  It
has proposed regulations to insure that States
address the potential hazards at each worksite,
has undertaken research, has develop&a and
sponsored training programs, and is workirq to

           upgrade its manual of acceptable traffic con-
           trol devices.  (See p. 1i.)

           These actions, however, do not fully address
           all the problems GAO found.  (See p. 21.)

           The Highway Administration's Manual on Uni-
           form Traffic Control Devices describes de-
           vices that can be used in construction zones.
           It does not contain enough information on
           how and when these devices should be used.
           Until uniform standards for using these de-
           vices are established, State planners, project
           officials, and Federal inspectors will not
           have sufficient guidelines for safe highway
           worksites.  (See p. 15.)

           Highway Administration field offices have
           not developed procedures describing the scope
           and frequency of inspections, nor have State
           and Federal officials been adequately inspect-
           ing the safety of construction zones.   Federal
           officials attributed these failures to com-
           peting time requirements and lack of knowledge.
           They regard construction zone safety as a
           comparatively lower priority issue.   (See
           p. 19.)

           Planners and State and Federal project in-
           spectors need training in construction zone
           safety techniques.   Little has been ac-
           complished by the Highway Administration to
           satisfy these needs.   (See p. 16.,

          By developing additional guidance on how and
          when to use traffic control devices, by irm-
          provin~g field office inspection procedures,
          and by providing training, the Highway Ad-
          ministration and the States can greatly in-
          crease the safety of motorists, pedestrians,
          and work crews.   (See p. 21.)

          The Secretary of Transportation should direct
          the Administrator, Federal Highway Administra-
          tion, to:

          ---Revise the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control
             Devices to include specific guidance on how
             and when to use traffic control devices in
    het      construction zones.

             ~       ~   ~   ~   ii
-- Require training to help insure that Federal
   and State officials are made aware of the
   importance of construction zone safety and
   have the capability to plan for, implement,
   and inspect these safety measures.

-- Establish field office inspection procedures
   to identify hazardous conditions and insure
   that they are corrected.

The Federal Highway Administration generally
agreed with the GAO recommendations. (See
p. 22.)

                         C o   t en   t
DIGEST                                                     i

      1    INTRODUCTION                                    1
               Importance of construction zone safety      1
               Federal-State responsibilities              2
               Scope of review                             3
             ZONE SAFETY                                  4
               Highway construction zones are not safe    5
               Recent actions to improve management      13
               Program guidance inadequate               15
               Increased training needed                 16
               Construction plans need to be strength-
                 ened                                    17
               State supervision should be imprcved      19
               Highway Administration monitoring needs
                 to be improved                          20
               Conclusions                               21
               Recommendations                           22
               Agency comments and our e;aluation        22

      I       Sites visited during our review            24
  II          Our observations for three projects
                visited                                  25
AASHTO        American Association of State Highway
                and Transportation Officials
GAO           General Accounting Office
                       CHAPTER 1


     Over the past 21 years, the Federal Government has given
States about $85 billion for constructing and reconstructing
Interstate and other Federal-aid highways.   Recently, States
have been using increasingly larger portions of their Federal-
aid funds to preserve and upgrade the initial investment.   For
example, between fiscal years 1970 and 1975, State obligations
of Federal-aid funds for reconstruction increased by 223 per-
cent from about $560 million to $1.8 billion.   More recent
obligational data for fiscal year 1977 showed that almost
$2.3 billion had been used for upgrading--an increase of
27 percent since 1975.

     In addition, the Congress has recognized the need to
maintain the quality of existing highways.  Through the
Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1976 (Public Law 94-280), the
Congress provided $175 million annually for fiscal years 1978
and 1979.  These funds were specifically for reconstructing--
rehabilitating, restoring, and resurfacing--Interstate high-
ways in use over 5 years and not used as toll roads.

     As State reconstruction activity increases, increasingly
higher volumes of traffic will have to be routed through
or around active construction zones.  Federal Highway Admin-
istration records showed that during fiscal year 1977 about
13,100 miles of existing Federal-aid highways had been under
construction.  Because these construction zones are poten-
tially hazardous, adequate traffic management techniques
must be employed to insure motorist, worker, and pedestrian
safety.  In addition, generally rising traffic volumes will
compound the problems associated with managing traffic in
construction zones.


     Construction zone safety encompasses those activities
that provide for safe, expeditious movement of motorists
and pedestrians through construction and maintenance zones
and for the protection of the work force.

     This matter has been a subject of concern in recent
years for the Congress, Federal Highway Administration, and
organizations concerned with highway safety, such as the Na-
tional Advisory Committee on Uniform Traffic Control De-
vices, the National Highway Safety Advisory Committee, the
Center for Auto Safety, and the American Association of
State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).  A

common belief, supported by numerous reviews, is that mean-
ingful action must be taken to make construction sites safer.

      Since more hazards exist during construction, traffic
accidents are more likely to occur at that time.   While no
national statistics are available, several studies support
the contention that accident rates are higher in construction
zones.   One study, based on 1965 statistics of construction
zones in California, showed that the overall accident rate
increased by 21 percent during construction, whereas the
fatal accident rate increased 132 percent.   In April 1977,
a consulting firm prepared for the Department of Transporta-
tion a report entitled "Accident and Speed Studies in Con-
struction Zones."   This study covered 79 projects and 20,000
accidents in Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, New
York, Ohio, and Washington.   Higher accident rates occurred
on 69 percent of the projects.   Further, in 24 percent of
the projects, accident rate increases of 50 percent or more
were experienced. Another study of a project in Virginia
indicated the overall frequency of accidents increased
119 percent, with fatalities going up by 320 percent.   In
an Illinois review of two toll roads under construction,
researchers reported vehicle crashes increased 160 percent.


     The Highway Safety Act of 1966 (80 Stat. 731) requires
each State to have a highway safety improvement program ap-
proved by the Secretary of Transportation.  The objective of
the program is to reduce the deaths, injuries, and property
damage caused by traffic accidents on the Nation's highways.

     The overall effect of the act was to involve the Federal
Government directly in the quality and quantity of State high-
way safety operations by providing Federal funds and issuing
standards and guidelines.  Our review focused on Highway
Administration and State efforts to protect motorists and
pedestrians in highway construction zones, as part of the
overall safety improvement program required by the 1966 act.

     The Highway Administration is responsible for developing
program guidance and approving State highway safety improve-
ment plans and proposed construction projects.  In addition,
it monitors State performance to assure that Federal stand-
ards are met.

     The States and local jurisdictions, in designing and
constructing individual highway projects, are responsible
for assuring that adequate advance warning, guidance, and
regulation of traffic are given the motoring public around

these sites. To accomplish this, States are to use Highway
Administration program guidance in designing project specifi-
cations, inspecting construction sites, and initiating needed


     We reviewed the Highway Administration's guidance for
insuring safety in highway construction zones, Federal and
State planning procedures and training activities, the ade-
quacy of safety provisions at worksites and Federal and
State inspection procedures. We reviewed construction zone
safety efforts at the Highway Administration headquarters,
Washington, D.C., and at its regional offices in Atlanta,
Georgia, and Fort Worth, Texas. We visited its division
offices, the respective State highway agencies' central
offices and selected field offices in Louisiana, Mississippi,
Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Washington. We inter-
,iewed Highway Administration, State highway, or local juris-
diction officials at the 26 pLojects we visited in the seven
States.  In addition, we verified the severity of the safety
hazards we observed Aith a representative of a consulting
firm that had developed a construction zone safety training
course for the Highway Administration.

                              CHAPTER 2


                      CONtRUCTION ZONE SAFETY

     The Highway Administation is responsible for assuring
that State highway agencies provide adequate construction
zone safety on federally assisted reconstruction projects.
Despite the Highway Administ-ation's expressed concern for
construction zone safety from 1966 to as recent as September
1976, hazardous conditions were evident at each of the proj-
ect sites we visited. State and Highway Adiinistration field
officials were not giving construction zone safety enough
consideration when designing, implementing, and inspecting
highway construction projects.

     The varying deficiencies we found in State highway agen-
cies' construction zone safety practices indicated that the
Highway Administration's     interest had not always   reached   the
project level.     Ar a result, motorists, pedestrians, and
workers   faced   hazardous conditions at highway construction
projects.  In our view, failure to adequately deal with con-
struction zone safety matters occurred because:

     --State highway and Highway Administration field offi.-
       cials did not always approach highway construction in
       a manner that adequately addressed the afety problems
       motorists encounter in highway construction areas.
     -- Some officials believed that other matters, such as
        construction requirements and environmental quality,
        had higher priority than construction zone safety.
     -- Highway Administration guidance provided very limited
        information on how and when to use appropriate traf-
        fic control devices.
     -- State highway and Highway Administration field offi-
        cials were not adequately training their personnel.
      Recently the Highway Administration has developed train-
ing courses and initiated a large research effort in this
area.   It also proposed that the States be requi::ed to de-
velop procedures to insure preparation of traffic control
plans for each reconstruction project.

     These efforts should increase the Federal emphasis on
construction zone safety.  However, the Highway Administra-
tion needs to take additional steps to insure that its em-
phasis is reflected in safety provisions made by State high-
way agencies to adequately design, implement, and inspect
for safety.


     Using information gained during our participation in a
Highway Administration-sponsored training course on con-
struction zone safety, we inspected 26 construction sites in
seven States and found unsafe and hazardous conditions at
each site.  (See app. I for a list of the projects.)  Although
some States had relatively safe projects, the overali fre-
quency and seriousness of the conditions as illustrated
in the following photographs show that the Highway Administra-
tion has not been successful in achieving adequate safety
in construction zones.

     -- Pavement dropoffs up to about 7 feet deep were not
        adequately marked for day or night visibility.

             _               A''

     The following photo shows the motorist's view of the
excavation pictured on page 5. Red plastic streamers were
tacked onto wooden construction forms to warn motorists of
the hazard.  However, the forms 4id not adequately mark the
hazard because they did not show -p well, particularly at

     -- Construction equipment and material were stored close
        to traffic lanes.

This crane was left on the road shoulder overnight. The
equipment's proximity to traffic and poor reflectivity cre-
ated an extremely hazardous condition. At night, motorists
surprised by its presence mad, erratic maneuvers into the
left traffic lane.
The fenced-in area contained various sizes of water and sewage
pipes and was flush with the edge of the traffic lane.  Lack of
reflective markings on the fence caused a hazardous condition
at night.

     -- There were failures   to provide   for pedestrian    traffic.

                          \                              1


Pedestrians were forced   to walk in a traffic   lane   to cross
the street.
     -- Large pieces of concrete, sandbags, heavy steel forms,
        and timbers 12 inches square and 5 or 6 feet long
        were used to anchor or stabilize drums, barricades,
        or sign frames. These obstacles could become deadly
       missiles if struck by a vehicle.


Heavy steel   forms were   used extensively at one project   to
anchor metal drums in the manner shown above.

             Lt L:T::X:

              -·-                 , B ri__


Three sandbags were placed on top of this drum for added
weight and stability.

A piece of concrete was used to stablize this drum.

     -- Barricades obstructed motorists' vision at intersec-

The driver's view of the semitrailer approaching from the
right was obstructed.

other conditions we observed included:

     -- Traffic control devices were dirty and not properly

     --Traffic control devices did not provide for the safe
       movement of traffic from one lane to another.

     -- Warning signs, preceding the construction site, were
        missing on some projects and, on some others, were so
        wordy and numerous that they were confusing. Within
        the boundaries of the projects, signs were not used
        ;.hen needed, aid not permit adequate response time,
        and were contradictory to other signs at the location.
        Unsafe conditions resulted from signs protruding into
        the roadway or being mounted so low as to be nearly
        invisible.   Signs applicable to day work only were
        left uncovered at night.

     -- Temporary striping was not always used.  It; absence
        on some narrow roads bordered by pavement dropoffs
        and curves made driving hazardous.  At some locations,
        existing striping should have been obliterated because
        it could mislead motorists.

     -- Timber beams, used as positive barriers and for de-
        lineating traffic created unsafe conditions because
        most were pooriv maintained, nonreflective, and dis-
        connected, often causing them to protrude into the lanes
        of traffic.

     -- Poor flagging procedures were widespread, including
        failure to give advance warning of the operation,
        provide for flagmen when needed, properly equip the
        flagmen in required attire, and remove flagging warn-
        ings when the operations ceased.

     While the preceding safety defects shown by these pho-
tographs may seem obvious, other problems, such as moving
traffic safely from one lane to another, are not.


     The Highway Administration has initiated several ac-
tions to improve motorist, worker, and pedestrian safety
in construction zones.  Its emphasis on this problem was
designed to strengthen procedures for assuring that States
achieve safe construction zones.  This emphasis, however,
is not adequately addressing the problems noted during our

     In May 1976, the Highway Administration said States
needed to give more attention to motorist safety in con-
struction zones.  It initiated action to provide national
leadership for assuring proper attention to public safety
in construction zones.  Specifically, it recommended that
States (1) improve preliminary planning for safety, (2) as-
sign responsibility for motorist safety to qualified person-
nel, (3) provide training programs as needed, and (4) inspect
safety conditions at construction sites.

     In implementing this, Highway haministration regional
offices employed wide y varying techn.ques. For example,
one office developed a specific program :'o determine the
status and needed improvements to State-l'   riteria for plan-
ning and managing safety efforts in col     icticon zones. An-
other regional office did not issue an N   jidance for imple-
menting this emphasis.

     Through   its   inspections of   State practices,   the High-
way Administration is aware of existing problems.  In 1976,
its review of 18 States' practices showed that the quality
of traffic control procedures varied widely not only from
State to State but also from project to project.  Highway
Administration followup reviews in 1977 showed several areas
of improvement; however, it concluded that continuing prob-
lems were sufficiently serious to warrant further attention.

     To further its emphasis, on August 25, 1977, the Highway
Administration published a notice of proposed rulemaking for
improving construction zone safety in the Federal Register.
The rule would require each State to (1) develop a Process
Management Plan for obtaining safe construction zones and
(2) prepare detailed traffic control plans for each Federal-
aid highway construction project.  It would also require
contracting agencies to designate a project level official
to be responsible for and have sufficient authority to im-
plement project safety plans.

     The Highway Administration has addressed training and
research by

    -- sponsoring a training course entitled "Traffic Con-
       trol for Street and Highway Construction and Mainte-
       nance Operations" t - States' use;

    -- contracting for development of two additional courses
       on construction zone safety matters;

    -- preparing slide presentations on barriers, barricades,
       and pavement markings in construction zones; and

      -- initiating a multistudy research effort.

     As discussed in the following five sections, more High-
way Administration actions are needed.


     The Highway Administration has issued standards and
other program guidance to assist States to design and imple-
ment safe construction projects.   The standards for construc-
tion zone safety include the Manual on Uniform Traffic Con-
trol Devices and the highway safety standards developed in
response to the Highway Safety Act of 1966.   The Highway
Administration also considers the American Association of
State Highway and Transportation Officials' publication
entitled "Highway Design and Operational Practices Related
to Highway Safety" as guidance.  Combined with the AASHTO
publication, the standards and the manual provide some man-
agement principles for construction zone safety.   The manual
describes what devices may be used to achieve safety.

     This guidance, however, provides little information on
how, why, and when these devices are to be used.  Instead,
the Highway Administration relies on its field offices and
State highway agencies to use general program guidance and
professional engineering judgment as the bases for assuring
that its field offices and State highway agencies (1) develop
adequate construction zone safety plans, (2) critically in-
spect the worksites, and (3) assess and satisfy Federal and
State training needs.

Safety standards

     The standards on highway design, construction, and main-
tenance and traffic engineering services are regulations de-
signed to protect motorists, pedestrians, and highway workers.
The first standard points out that construction zones require
special attention because the accident potential is much
greater than for normal highway conditions.

      Together, the two standards cite several specific prin-
ciples of work zone safety, including (1) need to shorten
construction time, (2) limitation of construction operations
to "offpeak" hours on high-volume highways, and (3) appro--
priate guarantees for safety within construction contracts
and plans.   Recognizing that poorly maintained traffic con-
trol devices lose their effectiveness and can impair high-
way safety, the Highway Administration recommended that
the States periodically inspect all traffic control devices
and correct potentially hazardous conditions in construction

Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices

The manual prescribes the traffic control devices that
may be used in construction and maintenance operations to
regulate, warn, and guide traffic.  But it fails to provide
sufficient detail on why, when, and how the approved devices
are to be used.  As a result, the Highway Administration must
place heavy reliance on the professional engineering judgment
of State and Federal officials.

      Highway Administration officials acknowledged that the
manual had deficiencies, including ambiguities in describ-
ing how to achieve safe construction zones.   While speaking
before members of the Institute of Transportation Engineers,
the Associate Administrator for Safety said, "Admittedly, the
manual is vague on its requirements for construction zones
and should be improved.'

     Other highway safety organizations and researchers have
also recognized the need for better program guidance.   One
said that the manual should be redirected to provide optimum
motorist guidance instead of an apparent overemphasis on oper-
ating efficiencies and liability avoidance.  A second said
that, in the absence of standards mandated by regulation,
safety is often sacrificed in the interest of speed and
economy because safety procedures can be time-consuming and

     The Highway Administration recognized major problems with
its guidance for construction zones and in December 1976 ini-
tiated a comprehensive review.  It is currently revising the
manual and estimates completion in July 1978.   The revised
manual, however, will not include information on how to apply
these devices because Highway Administration officials con-
sidered this information supplementary to manual provisions
and were fearful that including this criteria would increase
State legal liability.  This rationale, however, is incon-
sistent with current manual provisions which already include
mandatory, advisory, and permissive conditions.


     There is general agreement that insufficient knowledge
of and concern for construction zone safety can contribute
to increased safety hazards.  Project officials should not
only be aware of motorists' needs, but also have sufficient
engineering knowledge to provide a safe driving environment
in construction zones.  Several State and Federal officials
we interviewed expressed a need for additional educational

efforts at the project level.   Others made comments assigning
much of the responsibility for construction zone safety prob-
lems to motorists' driving habits.   According to the Highway
Administration and some of its researchers, there is a need
for construction zone safety education at the project level.
  -hway Administration field offices are responsible for
   untifying and meeting their own construction zone safety
gaining nseeds and for advising the States on solutions to
their training requirements.

     Most Highway Administration field offices we visited
had not been actively working vith the State highway depart-
ments in addressing State employee training needs.  Only two
field offices had recommended that States establish formal
training programs.  Further, State highway agencies had not
satisfied their training needs. None had formal courses
dealing with construction zone safety and few State per-
sonnel had attended the Highway Administration's comprehen-
sive training course. While some Highway Administration
field office personnel have attended safety slide presenta-
tions (see p. 14), these presentations are not a sufficient
hasis for overall management of construction zone safety.   We
could not identify any other training courses for construc-
tion zone safety being used by the Highway Administration
field offices we reviewed.

      Several State and Federal officials indicated that
motorists needed to exercise more caution through construc-
tion zones.   For example, one State official said the motor-
ists are noe  assuming enough responsibility when driving
through the construction zone and that construction zone safety
practices would never meet all Federal standards because the
State's numher or-, priority was completing the project.  In
another instance, we called a project engineer's attention
to barricades which obscured motorists' vision.   His response
was, "If the motorist's view is obscured, he will be more
careful entering the roadway."

     The need for training is demonstrated further in the
following sections on construction plans and inspections.


     AASHTO has stated that when traffic is maintained through
construction work zones, a well thought-out and executed traf-
fic plan should be prepared during the design of the project.
According to AASHTO, a carefully developed plan combined with
constant surveillance can produce safe and expeditious traffic
flow through construction operations.

     The Highway Administration has required States to pro-
vide for motorist safety at highway worksites.  However,
thus far, it has not provided States with sufficient informa-
tion on how to design and implement safe construction zones.

     Other organizations concerned with highway safety have
recognized the importance of planning.  For example, a re--
search organization and the Center for Auto Safety have urged
that such items as lane tapers, pavement marling, and bar-
riers should be specifically considered when developing con-
struction zone safety plans.  According to the Center, ad-
dressing such items more specifically for each project would
assure timely consideration of features having a material ef-
fect on construction zone safety.

     Highway Administration field offices are responsible for
reviewing project designs and specifications to help insure
that State highway agencies adequately consider construction
zone safety for each project.   However, its field offices dt
not have specific procedures requiring thorough and systematic
evaluation of such efforts.   As a result, the extent of pro-
visions in State project designs and specifications for work-
site safety vary.

      In discussing the variations, State and Federal offi-
cials told us that the amount of detailed planning for
construction zone safety practices was left to the judgment
of the responsible project personnel.   According to a Highway
Administration headquarters official, Federal and State offi-
cials at the project level lack sufficient appreciation and
knowledge to adequately address the problem primarily because
of the low priority given to construction zone safety in the

     Designers often relied only on a set of standard plans
depicting typical situations.  Although this may be a valid
approach on projects where no unusual conditions exist, we
found that fewer hazardous conditions were present at the
sites where designs and specifications were more detailed.
This was particularly true in Ohio where designers were re-
quired to prepare a detailed construction zone safety plan
for all projects.  In addition to the standard advance warning
signs, a typical plan included provisions for such items as
sign and arrow board placement, lane tapers, equipment storage,
and temporary pavement markings.

     In contrast, construction zone safety plans in Missouri
and Texas contained little detail.  In Missouri, four urban

projects characterized by high traffic densities and con-
struction complexities hdd dangerous dropoffs and detours.
However, project designers included only standard plans which
did not address many of the unsafe conditions we observed.
In Texas, an urban project had pavement dropoffs up to
3 feet in depth and needed temporary lane striping throughout
the project, but neither condition was addressed in the
standard plans used in the project design and specifications.


     During construction, the State highway agencies are re-
sponsible for supervising the construction zone safety prac-
tices of their contractors. The need for diligent and con-
tinual inspections of projects for hazardous conditions is
widely acknowledged.  For example, AASHTO said that as a
minimum, "drive-throughs" should be made at the beginning
and end of each workday.  It has also recommended that:

    "Responsibilities must be assigned in order to
    assure proper supervision of the placement, relo-
    cation, and removal of traffic control devices
    during the progress of the work.  Supervision must
    be constant and consistent from the first to the
    final day of the job."

Traffic safety measures are usually the responsibility of   the
State's project engineer or his designee.

     Wa found that State construction zone safety inspections
in sente cases were inadequate and in other cases were not
performed.   On several projects we reviewed, project engi-
neers said that completing projects within calendar and bud-
get limitations was much more important than construction
zone safety. A Highway Administration official pointed out
that another competing priority at the State level was insur-
ing construction quality.   One State official said that, be-
cause of these comp,.ting priorities, maximum construction
zone safety will probably never become a reality.   Some
project engineers reviewed their projects only when they
drove to work in the morning and again as they returned home
in the afternoon.   Highway Administration officials told us
that more emphasis must be placed on education so that proj-
ect engineers will know why such things as "proper signing"
are essential and what must be done to insure that the proj-
ect is adequately designed and maintained to route
traffic safely through it.

     The Highway Administration's training course on con-
struction zone safety suggests that more thorough inspec-
tions be made through the use of checklists in evaluating
the effectiveness and proper maintenance of such things as
traffic control devices.  For the 26 projects we visited,
the only instance of a checklist being used was by a State
project engineer in Washington.

     AASHTO said nighttime drive-throughs must be made to
evaluate the adequacy of lighting and reflectorization, but
officials in five of the States we reviewed said they were
not required to make night inspections.   We found that night
inspections were not regularly perfcrmed in any of the States
we visited.   One project engineer said he had never made a
night inspection on his project since its inception in the
fall of 1976.   Several of the hazardous conditions noted dur-
ing our visits were found during nigh': observations.


     Highway Administration field offices are responsible
for inspecting construction sites to insure that States are
properly signing and marking construction worksites.  How-
ever, there is no program guidance specifying how often the
engineers should inspect traffic controls or what the extent
and content of these inspections should be.  Instead, the
scope and frequency of inspections are left to the engineer-
ing judgment of the field office director or the respective

     Inspection reports are formal mechanisms for document-
ing construction conditions and keeping State highway agency
officials apprised of Highway Administration monitoring
efforts.  Inspect.on reports we reviewed were prepared as
part of overall construction project reviews to assess the
status of construction, but they seldom identified construc-
tion zone hazards.  Although one Federal official said Highway
Administration field officials would document deficiencies
only if they were unable to obtain corrective action, we noted
that there were unsafe conditions which existed at the time
of the inspections which were not documented and which had
not been corrected.  The safety problems noted at three proj-
ects are discussed in detail in appendix II.

      In addition, since the engineers were not required to
tour the sites at night, such inspections were usually not
made.   Some engineers said they usually drove through the
project if they happened to remain in the vicinity over-

     The reasons for poor inspections at the State level also
exist at the Federal level.  According to Federal officials,
these include a lack of knowledge of how or what to inspect,
a general lack of understanding about the level of effort
needed to insure safe conditions, and competing time demands,
such as the time required to complete environmental impact


     The Federal Highway Administration headquarters has
strongly emphasized safety in construction zones. How-
ever the many hazardous conditions we found at construction
worksites indicated that it has not been successful in estab-
lishing this same level of concern in its fielc offices and
State highway agencies. Compared with their responsibilities
for completing projects within scheduled time limits and in-
suring construction quality, they perceived construction
zone safety as a lower priority.

     The Highway Administration recognized many of the prob-
lems associated with achieving safe construction zones.   It
proposed regulations that, if implemented, should result in
better traffic control and should address the potential haz-
ards at each worksite.  It has also initiated significant
research efforts, developed and sponsored training programs,
and is working to upgrade its manual of acceptable traffic
control devices.

     These efforts, however, do not entirely address the
problems we identified.  For example, although Federal offi-
cials were not adequately inspecting worksites for traffic
safety matters, little effort had been directed toward improv-
ing these Federal inspection procedures.

     The Highway Administration has not provided sufficient
guidance on the proper application of traffic control devices
in construction zones.   Because of this lack of guidance and
the failure to fully satisfy training needs, we believe State
and Federal officials did not always know how and when to
use the control devices.

      The Highway Administration places heavy reliance on its
field offices and State highway agencies to protect motor-
ists.   To accomplish this objective, the Highway Administra-
tion needs to provide specific application guidelines, develop
better inspection procedures, and promote additional training
on construction zone safety. Training should also be required

so project level officials become aware of safety needs in
construction zones and develop the ability to plan, implement,
and inspect projects for these needs.


     We recommend that the Secretary of Transportation re-
quire the Administrator, Federal Highway Administration, to:

     --Revise the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices
       to include specific guidance on how and when to use
       traffic control devices in construction zones.

     --Require training to help insure that Federal and State
       officials are made aware of the importance of construc-
       tion zone safety and have the capability to plan, im-
       implement, and inspect these safety measures.

     -- Establish field office inspection procedures to iden-
        tify hazardous conditions and insure that they are


     We discussed the above matters with Highway Administra-
tion officials and considered their views in preparing this
report.  They acknowledged that the driving environments in
construction zones sometimes contained safety problems and
that additional actions were needed to mitigate these dangers.
The Highway Administration is relying on implementation of
the proposed construction zone safety regulations and revi-
sions to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to
accomplish these needed improvements.  It estimates the final
regulation will be issued in February 1978.

     Highway Administration officials said that the Manual
on Uniform Traffic Control Devices describes what devices
may be ised but does not contain enough information on how
and whei to use them.  They told us that they were thinking
aLout developing a separate handbook that would contain such
guidance. However, we believe that it would be more appro-
priate to include this information in the manual because it
officially sets forth the basic principles that govern the
design and usage of such devices.

     Highway Administration officials agreed that their field
offires were not frequently inspecting projects.  Although
they objected to developing checklists as management tools,
they oelieved their field offices should develop procedures
for reviewing the effectiveness of provisions for construction
zone safety.

     Highway officials acknowledged the need to train their
field officials and State highway personnel on how to plan
and implement safe construction zones. They said that the
proposed regulations would require States to provide infor-
mation on training needs and that Highway Administration
field offices would then determine the sufficiency of the
proposed training to meet those needs. We believe that,
in adopting this regulation, the Highway Administration
should insure that training needs are fulfilled at the
project level, including an explanation of the importance of
and methods for achieving construction zone safety.

     The Highway Administration has expressed concern about
safety problems in construction zones for over 11 years.
Although it has taken some actions that should help improve
safety in construction areas, our recommended additional
actions are necessary to achieve construction zone safety.
Since the field offices do not make detailed reviews of each
traffic control plan, it is especially important that addi-
tional guidance and training be provided to State officials.
Further, tc maximize the effectiveness of its field offices,
the Highway Administration should establish inspection pro-
cedures to identify and correct safety hazards in construction

    APPENDIX I                                            APPENDIX I

                              SITES VISITED
                            DURING OUR REVIEW
 States          Project number          Type    Length      traffic
Louisiana     1-10-5-(176)233            Urban     1.Q        95,720
Louisiana     M-9391(002)                Urban     1.4        26,200
Mississippi   ROS-008-I(28)              Rural     0.3        12,000
Mississippi RF-014-2(12)                 Rural     7.6         3,500
Missouri    TQF-66-6(4)                  Urban     3.0        39,930
Missouri    M-5575(601)                  Urban     1.5        13,000
Missouri    M-5575(602)                  Urban     0.5        13,000
Missouri      M-5575(603)                Urban     0.4        83,700
              I-TQFI-81-2(127)077/       Urban
New York        I-TQFI-690-3(36)214               8.6         78,000
New York      I-UI-690-3(35)208          Urban    7.0         23,100
New York      M-5055(1)                  Urban    1.5         57,900
New York      I-278-1(160)               Urban   10.7         63,800
Ohio          I-IR-70-7(62)200           Rural    3.3         13,550
              1-70(51)156/               Rural
Ohio            RFI-UI-70-7(61)156                3.5         40,000
Ohio          I-IR-71-3(66)80            Rural   10.3      Not available
Ohio          I-IR-71-3(59)91            Rural    3.4      Not available
Texas         MQ000(1)                   Urban    2.0         14,500
Texas         MQ021(1)                   Urban    1.0         28,200
Texas         1-30-5(38'053              Urban    0.3      Not available
Texas         1-30-5(41)052              Urban    5.0         81,940
Texas         MS002(1)                   Urban    1.8         26,180
Texas         TQMS265(1)                 Urban    2.3         20,210
Washington    I-90-1(112)15              Rural    0.9         19,000
Washington    I-90-1(107)16              Rural    1.3         14,900
Washingtcn    I-5-1(112)35               Rural    1.5         28,000
Washington    I-5-1(114)39               Rural    1.3         24,300

APPENDIX II                                             APPENDIX II

                        OUR OBSERVATIONS FOR

                       THREE PROJECTS VISITED


Ocean Parkway
Brooklyn, New York
Date started:  8/16/76
Length:  1.5 miles
Number of Federal Highway Administration       (FWHA) Inspec-
tions: 1

FHWA inspection findings

       Maintenance and protection of traffic was satisfactory.
The   inspection was performed in November 1976.

GAO Observations in May 1977

      This project consisted of resurfacing a badly detteri-
orated six-lane street through a heavily populated residential
area.   Traffic was maintained on two outside lanes in each
direction, while the two middle lanes were under construction.
The project was characterized by heavy pedestrian traffic,
narrow traffic lanes, and numerous intersections.

     The engineer-in-charge had previously withheld payments
to the contractor and was considering assessing further
penalties for failure to comply with traffic safety measures.
The engineer had cited some deficiencies noted during our
inspections just 2 days prior to our visit.  He had suggested
the contractor appoint someone fulltime to traffic control.

      During our   visit we   noticed:

      -- Timber curbs were not connected together and protruded
         into traffic lanes.  The ends at intersections were
         not tapered as required by project plans and, therefore,
         were blunt 12-inch obstacles to oncoming traffic. (See
         photograph, top p. 26.)

APPENDIX II                                        APPENDIX lI

    -- The lack of crosswalks at a number of intersections
       (as required by the project plans) forced pedestrians
       to use traffic lanes when crossing the street.

    -- Unnecessary striping was not obliterated at inter-
       sections.  This tended to contradict the direction in
       which timber curbs channeled trafric.  Therefore,
       motorists were receiving conflicting guidance.

    --Flagmen were not always used when needed.  (See follow-
      ing photograph, top p. 27.)  In instances where workers
      were directing traffic, they did not wear reflective
      attire or comply with flagging procedures set forth
      in the manual.

    -- Amber reflectors on top of metal bars were dirty
       and not reflective at night.  Many of the metal bars
       were bent and often projected into the traffic lane.

    --Materials were stored in a fenced enclosure which
      abutted the street curb and were not reflectorized
      for night visibility.  (See photograph, p. 8.)

    -- Traffic   control devices were in poor condition.

APPENDIX II                                      APPENDIX II

     -- Confusing and superfluous siqns were common at in-
     -- Some signs were too wordy for quick comprehension.
        (See following photograph.)

APPENDIX    II                                   APPENDIX II


Lindberg Boulevard
St. Louis, Missouri
Date started:   Fall 1976
Length:   3 miles
Nurmber of FHWA Inspections:     0

GAO Observations   in May 1977

     This project consisted of widening a street and a bridge
and installing traffic signals.  Traffic was sometimes con-
gested and speeds varied from about 25 mph to 40 mph, depend-
ing on the time of day.

     The site engineer described the project as one of the
toughest he had supervised, with the worst set of construc-
tion zone safety plans he had ever seen.   Throughout the
project, there were deep excavations and shoulder dropoffs
which presented formidable hazards not addressed in the
plans.  He said the plans included no details for detours,
and, for the most part, traffic control had been left to
his judgment.   For instance, the plans originally specified
only four barricades for the entire project when, according
to the engineer, that many could have been used at just one

     The site engineer's project inspections consisted of
a cursory review as he drove to and from work.  He had not
inspected the project at night.  We observed the following

     -- Culvert excavation, ranging in depth from 3 to 7 feet,
        was inadequately delineated throughout the project.
        At one location, for example, a crane was used to
        mark the hazard by being parked on the road shoulder
        in front of the excavation.  The equipment was dif-
        ficult to see at night and presented a hazard as
        great as the one it was marking.  (See photograph,
        p. 7.)

    -- Traffic control devices were extremely dirty and   in
       poor condition.

    -- Pavement dropoffs were marked with cones which were
       adequate during the day but were not readily visible
       at night.

APPENDIX    II                                    APPENDIX II

     -- Excavated portions of the street were not completely
        shut off to traffic.  Poor lighting and improper maLk-
        ings made these locations hazardous.

     -- "Open Trench" signs were difficult to see--too   low
        and in the excavation instead of preceding it.   (See
        following photograph.)

      X--                                     "
                 ..   ''   .   -        -.:

    -- At one intersection permanent and temporary stripinq
       gave motorists conflicting messages.   The permanent
       striping led directly into grading work adjacent
       to the street.   This was particularly hazardous at
       night since drivers had to make a sharp turn while
       receiving simultaneous but conflicting messaaes on
       which way to go.

APPENDIX    II                                   APPENDIX II


Wurzbach Road
San Antonio, Texas
Date started:  June 10, 1976
Length:  2 miles
Number of FHWA inspections:      3

FHWA inspection    findings


GAO observations   in March 1977

     This project involved widening a two-lane road to four
lanes.   Two lanes remained open at all times.  Driveways
to many small   businesses along the road complicated the
project.   Although the speed limit had been lowered temporar-
ily to 20 mph, the :raffic normally flowed between 35 and
40 mph.   Grading operations were in progress adjacent to
the two lanes open to traffic, and dropoffs up to 10 inches
deep were common.

     The site engineer advised us that he inspected the proj-
ect at night only if he happened to be in the area, and even
then the inspection was only a cursory drive-through.

    We observed    the   following conditions:

    -- There was no temporary striping on the portion of
       the road open to traffic.  This created a hazard since
       the two lanes were narrow and the motorists were often
       confronted with a sekere dropoff.  (See photographs
       on the next two pages.)

APPENDIX II                                     APPENDIX   II

     -- Warning devices marking hazardous drops were located
        as much as 300 feet apart, as shown in the photograph


kPPENDIX II                                    APPENDIX II

    -- Barricades used to mark access drives to a shopping
       center obstructed the view of drivers entering the
       busy roadway from the shopping center.

    -- Temporary speed limit signs adjacent to normal speed
       limit signs gave conflicting instructions to motor-

    --An arrow sign attached to a barricade was used to mark
      an obstruction on the side of the road.  The arrow
      suggested a turn where there was no need to turn.